Written by Howie Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant, NAPLGetty_83402859

If you’re a regular reader of the Xerox Digital Printing Hot Spot, you have most likely seen some of the articles about the ongoing battle of print versus electronic books. One focused on book divisions being sold, another on possible differences in reading comprehension and growth in specific markets, and the most recent talked about how printed books are making a comeback.

One of the advantages of writing and talking about this subject is you get the chance to talk to others about their experiences. That’s why I was not surprised when I got a phone call from Paul Snyder while working on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Paul wanted to talk about print versus electronic course materials. He works at Brigham Young University (BYU) and had noticed a trend on campus in which faculty are no longer printing course packs, but instead are allowing students to download files.

He asked if there are any studies on: students printing these electronic documents on local printers (at a higher cost), information about the students’ preferences, and information about reading comprehension. I pointed to studies, but I suggested he perform his own research. After returning from the IPMA show in June, Paul shared with me the results from the BYU study of 400 students.

  • When students were asked if they preferred printed or digital course materials, 65% said they preferred print.
  • When asked if they learn better from print or digital course materials, 74% reported print.
  • When asked if they read digital files or printed them, 72% said they printed some or all of the materials.
  • Of those who printed: 44% said they use their own personal printers, 42% said they use computer labs, and 30% said they use open access kiosks.
  • When asked if they’re ever distracted by e-mails, social media, or web surfing when they use electronic devices to study course materials: 99% said they were distracted.
  • When asked if costs were of no concern, would they prefer print, digital or both: 37% said mostly print, 18% mostly digital and 44% said both.
  • When asked about the advantages of printed course materials, they responded with comments such as: no headaches, easier highlighting, easier to locate, easier to flip back and forth when studying, and easier to read.

Students Want Print

The results could not be more clear. Students prefer print. They feel they are less distracted when reading print and learn better from print, and even when provided digital files, they often print them!

My thanks to the staff at the BYU in-plant Print & Mail shop and congratulations to BYU on winning the IPMA ‘Best of Show’ award. This research and award shows why BYU is considered one of the leading in-plants.

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Howard Fenton is a Consultant and Business Advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research